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USA Today Blasts Higher Education for Lack of Accountability

An editorial published today in USA Today laments the state of higher education in the US. Among the criticisms:

  • While the best are the truly the best in the world, nearly 4000 institutions lack any scrutiny or accountability
  • Literacy rates are low among students at four-year colleges (according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study)
  • Prestigious universities falter in their education of undergraduates
  • Shenanigans within the student loan market
  • Kickbacks in the study abroad industry
  • Too much control by faculty who protect their interests over the interests of students
  • Continuing skyrocketing costs

The answer: We need more inquiry into our colleges and universities, and perhaps we need to shake things up with a “Nation At Risk” sort of report to shed more light on some of the more shameful practices.

While I don’t deny that these problems exist, we must remember that they occur within a context. Our entire educational system, from pre-school through graduate school, needs an overhaul. While many moan about No Child Left Behind, it is certainly true that the legislation has led to greater transparency and openness about successes and failures. And the K-12 system feeds into our higher education system, so if a third of students are illiterate should we really blame the colleges alone? And with regard to costs, while parents complain about skyrocketing costs, they also demand fancy foods, a climbing wall, and immaculate landscaping–in addition to those crusty, tweed-wearing professors. The prices are rising because of greater consumer demands for amenities, low student/teacher ratios, and the latest in technology. (Basic economics 101: Price is determined by supply and demand).

So while I don’t really disagree with this editorial, I would point out that colleges themselves are providing greater transparency (see my posts here and here on this topic) and governmental initiatives to investigate irregularities and to provide some accountability will continue.

In the meantime, consumers of education services need to be more discriminating in their consumption. There is, indeed, an abundance of bad educational options out there. But there are also great things happening in all sorts of colleges and universities across America–in our two-year colleges, our public universities, and in our lesser-known four-year colleges. While we should be perspicacious, we should not be blind to what is great.

And we also need to remember that finding the right college is of paramount importance. The match, the fit. Whatever your abilities, interests, or aspirations, there are a number of colleges that will suit you. Just need to know where to look. And you may need some help navigating your college journey. So consider hiring an independent college consultant.

Mark Montgomery
Independent College Consultant

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